As Dr. Hammer, I emphasize empirical research methods and critical thinking in every course I teach. As Elizabeth, I take yoga. While the practice of yoga has been around for centuries, it has become notably popular recently, the trendy way to deal with the stress of modern life. As a scientist, I have often struggled with the conflicting approaches of the spiritual yoga tradition and rigorous empirical research. However, I have been doing yoga for over four years now, and I notice more and more how it influences my life. Yoga emphasizes living in the moment and increasing self-awareness. As I reflect on the beginning of another school year, I realize there is something to be gained about learning and teaching, about being a student and being a faculty member, from the practice of yoga. Whether you practice yoga or not, there are principles of this philosophy that you can apply to the college experience.
Live in the Moment
Yoga calls us to be self-aware on both a physical and psychological level. It teaches that to truly appreciate life, we need to be in the present moment, not already in the next one. This is particularly challenging, for students and faculty alike, at the beginning of a school year when we are swept up in dropping and adding classes, buying textbooks, establishing new schedules, and finding places to park. But consider: this is the only beginning of the 2002-03 school year we will ever experience. This is the only beginning of your sophomore/junior/senior/grad school year you have. Taking a break from your daily grind to purposefully notice and appreciate this time can produce a psychological state in which we are significantly more ready to learn and teach.
And what an exciting time this is. As students, you are meeting new friends and starting new relationships that might change your life, beginning new courses that should change your mind, and making discoveries that will influence your career. As faculty, we are influencing students in ways we might never realize and embarking on another year of learning and growth (definitely one of the most rewarding benefits of the job).
As Psi Chi students you have already established yourselves as the cream of the crop in your major. You have already demonstrated a dedication to your education and to the advancement of the science of psychology. Take some time this semester to reflect on this accomplishment. Integrating even a small amount of reflective time into each day will help you live in the moment and become more self-aware. Ultimately, you will be preparing your mind for the learning opportunities that college offers. College is a place of growth in every sense of the word, and by being reflective, we are able to monitor our progress and recognize opportunities for growth.
Realize the Big Picture
Yoga teaches us to see our place in the universe, that we have a place in and reciprocal influence on nature. It is often beneficial (and motivating) to think about your classes and your degrees in general as part of the bigger picture. According to a recent Carnegie report, 65% of high school students go to college, and only the top 35% of those who are psychology majors are eligible for Psi Chi. Think about what having a college degree means to you. Think about the courses you are required to take. Why are these classes required, and how do they fit together to make you a higher educated person? Examine the requirements for your psychology major. What knowledge will you have gained by obtaining a degree in psychology? What skills will you have learned that will be useful in your life? Talk to your faculty advisor about this, or perhaps have a Psi Chi chapter discussion about this issue. By seeing how individual courses fit into the bigger picture of your education, you are able to make more connections between the material, learn more from the courses, and maintain enthusiasm even when the going gets tough around midterms and finals.
Yoga also teaches us to seek out our direction, not by strenuous endeavor, but by opening ourselves up to opportunities. As college students your opportunities for self-enhancement are abundant. You have the opportunity to focus on expanding your mind and your knowledge base through your professors and courses. You have the opportunity to choose an area of interest and begin collecting experiences within that area. You have the opportunity to think critically about information, challenging both your peers and your professors to do the same. You have the opportunity to meet new people, make new friends, and engage in new activities. For many of you, this is the first time you have lived away from home, so you have the opportunity to begin your independence. Be aware of these and other opportunities that will come your way this year, and be open to taking advantage of them.
One place to seek those opportunities is the Psi Chi National Office. On the national level, Psi Chi provides many opportunities for students of psychology. Psi Chi continues to give awards and grants to support student research activities. Because we keep adding new programs, Psi Chi currently provides up to $225,000 to members through grants and awards! (See page 43 for a concise overview of all the awards and grants offered, or check them out at www.psichi.org under "Awards/Grants.") I strongly encourage each of you to apply for these awards and grants. It seems that sometimes students are intimidated by the idea of a national awards competition. Go to Psi Chi's website and check out the previous winners. They are students doing student research, just like you. Besides, if you don't stretch, you won't grow.
Psi Chi offers awards for completed research as well as a venue in which to publish your research, the Psi Chi Journal of Undergraduate Research. We also offer grants to support research you might be interested in conducting. If you have an idea but need some funds, consider applying for one of the Undergraduate Research Grants. Psi Chi also sponsors summer research opportunities at research-active universities. If you are interested in getting some research experience at a research lab in your area of interest, consider applying for a grant through Psi Chi's Summer Research Grant program or through our partnership with NSF. Talk to your faculty advisor about taking advantage of these opportunities.
The Psi Chi chapter on your campus also provides unique opportunities for you. Chapters often provide ways to meet other psychology majors outside of classes, seminars or workshops on different areas within psychology or tips on getting into grad school, and chances to be involved in community service. If your school has an active chapter, get involved and become an active member. If your school does not have an active chapter, take a leadership role in turning that around. This initiative will provide you with beneficial leadership experience and cultivate skills that will serve you well long into the future. Psi Chi provides many ways to get involved and to make the most of your college years; however, it's up to you to open yourself up to and take advantages of these opportunities.
The Final Goal
The aim of yoga is to restore the mind and provide a dynamic balance between the internal mind and the external environment. Similarly, the aim of higher education is to cultivate the mind and develop conscientious, knowledgeable individuals for society. With these similar goals, there are lessons that each can learn from the other. For instance, yoga has entered the science of psychology and the scrutiny of critically thinking researchers. When I searched PsycINFO, I retrieved 183 references to yoga since 1998 published in cognitive, neuroscience, and stress management journals, to name a few. As Elizabeth the yoga practitioner, yoga makes me feel good and challenges me in new ways. But as Dr. Hammer the skeptic, teacher, and researcher, I appreciate the need to validate something beyond just a personal experience. The research evidence concerning the effects of yoga on heart health, relaxation, depression, anxiety, and even cognitive ability and visual perception, will influence yoga students and teachers in the future. Likewise, the teachings and aims of the yoga philosophy, whether you actually practice yoga or not, could influence you as psychology students and as teachers in productive ways. Namaste.
Fall 2002 issue of Eye on Psi Chi (Vol. 7, No. 1, pp. 4, 13), published by Psi Chi, The National Honor Society in Psychology (Chattanooga, TN). Copyright, 2002, Psi Chi, The National Honor Society in Psychology. All rights reserved.